The new-generation launch vehicles have been created to support the construction of the country’s planned space station and will send large communication satellites into orbit. The imminent launch follows the successful return-to-flight of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, last December after a series of setbacks.
Preparations for the first mission with a new Long March 7A rocket began early last month when a specially-designed cargo vessel Yuanwang-21 arrived in the northern port city of Tianjin where some of China’s Long March rockets are manufactured.
Yuanwang-21 collected what is expected to be the first Long March 7A rocket, a version of the 3.5-meter-diameter Long March 7 rocket that launched China’s Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft in 2017.
Observers believe the next mission will launch from a base near the coastal city of Wenchang next month.
China carried out 34 space launches last year, more than any other country including the US, which carried out 27.
But the country still lags behind the US when it comes to space capability and leader Xi Jinping is anxious to catch up.
Beijing said its first permanent space station will begin operation by 2022 and the Long March 7A rockets will play a major part in delivering on the pledge.
Washington is seeking to privatise the International Space Station by 2025, but some have cast doubt about whether it would be viable as a commercial project.
China has said it welcomes foreign astronauts to work with Chinese counterparts aboard China’s space station.
The fresh developments in China’s ambitious program come amid growing fears of the militarisation of space with technology such as satellites eventually being transformed into weapons.
Tens of thousands of satellites will be added to Earth’s orbit by the end of the decade as country’s try to extend their capabilities upwards.
NATO declared space a “domain of operations” at a meeting in London in December after Donald Trump announced a sixth branch of the US armed forces to fight wars outside the atmosphere.
But cybersecurity expert Dr William Akoto from the University of Denver said: “These new satellites have the potential to revolutionise many aspects of everyday life.
“Amid all the fanfare, a critical danger has flown under the radar: the lack of cybersecurity standards and regulations for commercial satellites, in the US and internationally.
“As a scholar who studies cyber conflict, I’m keenly aware that this, coupled with satellites’ complex supply chains and layers of stakeholders, leaves them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.”